Russian Invasion of Ukraine 2022 - Europe Superpower

Europe Superpower
Europe Superpower
Go to content

Russian Invasion of Ukraine 2022

Russias War in Ukraine 2022
1. Background
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is related to the geopolitical shift in balance away from the Soviet Union-US superpower system towards the eastward expansion of the US sphere of influence and the retreat of Russia's sphere of influence to its own borders. Or, to put it another way: the expansion of NATO to the east. In 2008, it stated that it planned — some day — to enroll Ukraine, though that is still seen as a far-off prospect, and in 2014 mass protests in the country forced out the Russia-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych. Russia swiftly invaded and annexed Crimea and Moscow also fomented a separatist rebellion that took control of part of the Donbas region of Ukraine. (1) Another problem for Russia was the US ballistic missile defense system Aegis Ashore in Romania and the planned one in Poland. Thus, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said for example in November 2018: "There is a new problematic issue, which has caused, perhaps, our greatest alarm and which we have started to raise before the United States in the bilateral format in the context of the treaty. It relates to the ground-based deployment of universal Mk-41 launchers as part of Aegis Ashore systems being deployed in Europe allegedly for solving solely anti-missile tasks". (2)

On 21 February 2022 Putin ordered his military to enter the Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine after signing decrees recognising the territories as independent states (41). According to the fourth article of these decrees, „the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation is instructed to ensure, until the conclusion of the agreement mentioned in paragraph 3 of this decree, the implementation of peacekeeping functions by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of the "Donetsk People's Republic" and the „Luhansk People‘s Republic“: „4. В связи с обращением Главы Донецкой Народной Республики Министерству обороны Российской Федерации обеспечить до заключения договора, названного в пункте 3 настоящего Указа, осуществление Вооруженными Силами Российской Федерации на территории Донецкой Народной Республики функций по поддержанию мира.“ (42).

On 24.02.2022, the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Putin explains it this way: „Any further expansion of the North Atlantic alliance’s infrastructure or the ongoing efforts to gain a military foothold of the Ukrainian territory are unacceptable for us. Of course, the question is not about NATO itself. It merely serves as a tool of US foreign policy. […] For the United States and its allies, it is a policy of containing Russia, with obvious geopolitical dividends. For our country, it is a matter of life and death, a matter of our historical future as a nation. […] It is the red line which we have spoken about on numerous occasions. They have crossed it.“ Later in the speech he said: „The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine […]. It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory.“ (3)

On the same day, only hours after the invasion, US President Joe Biden had F-35 jets readied for use with the B-61 nuclear weapons which are stored at the Büchel air base. To this end twelve of these planes were relocated to the NATO air base Spangdahlem. According to the German magazine „Focus“ the U.S. Air Force in Europe even declared DEFCON 2 (with DEFCON 1 meaning nuclear war) (105). In February 2022 „Jutarnji List“ mentionned already that the website "" assessed that the Pentagon declared DEFCON 2 for February 27 after Putin's order to put nuclear deterrence forces on high alert (106).  

2. Russia's War in Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine can be divided into several phases: The first phase, starting on February 24, is an attempt to take over Ukraine in a blitzkrieg lasting days or weeks - or in Russian parlance: in a military special operation - and to establish a Russia-friendly regime in Kyiv. The second phase begins at the beginning of April after the failure of the blitzkrieg strategy and the beginning of the war of attrition - whereby this change in strategy entails decisive problems for the further course of the war for Russia. From the beginning of September, the third phase is characterized by the counter-offensives by the Ukraine. (4) In fall/ winter 2022 one could add a fourth phase – that of Russia‘s stabilization of the front and its missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. At the beginning of February 2023 Russia starts its winter offensive in Donbass with the Kremlin setting a deadline for it at 31 March. An Ukrainian counter-offensive follows in June 2023 with which they try to cut the land route to Crimea in southern Ukraine.
2.1 Phase 1: The Blitzkrieg
On February 24, Russia attacked Ukraine with armor and airborne forces on four fronts: from the north from Belarus and from the northeast towards Kyiv, from the eastern front towards Kharkiv and from the southern front, i.e. from the already occupied Crimea, west toward Odesa, north toward Zaporizhzhia, and east toward Mariupol. Russia attacked with 110 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), that is approximately 142,000 forces. Besides, it utilized irregular forces, as the militias from Donetsk and Luhansk (57). According to Russian planning they were thought to invade Ukraine over a 10-day period, then, as a captured document puts it, ‘proceed to the blocking and destruction of individual scattered units of the Armed Forces and the remnants of nationalist resistance units’ and occupy the country to enable annexation by August 2022. By this way an international response was thoungt to be made irrelevant (63).

As for the BTGs, according to the Tass „Батальонно-тактическая группа - временное формирование, обладающее оперативной гибкостью. Создается для ведения боя в мотострелковых и танковых бригадах на основе одного батальона и приданных ему подразделений артиллерии, ПВО, инженерных и обеспечения. Дополнительно могут придаваться воздушные соединения, группы специального назначения и другие подразделения, позволяющие выполнять поставленные боевые задачи.“ („A battalion-tactical group is a temporary formation with operational flexibility. It is created to conduct a battle in motorized rifle and tank brigades based on one battalion and the artillery, air defense, engineering and support subunits given to it. Air formations, special-purpose groups and other units can be attached to carry out the set combat missions.“) In August 2021 Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that Russia had 168 of them (59). The most common of these combined arms battalions consists of between 700–800 personnel and is composed of a motorised rifle battalion with an attached tank company, self-propelled howitzer battalion, air defence platoon, engineer squad, and logistic support (58).

But the Russian shortcomings and weaknesses quickly showed: At the strategic level the Russians seems to have believed that they would be considered as liberators, that there wouldn‘t be much resistance and that the Ukrainian government would flee at the first sight of danger. Instead of a lightning, heavily armored thrust towards crucial objectives, the Russians tried to take Kyiv with small airborne forces and light forces on the ground. At the operational level there was, firstly, the failure to make effective arrangements for logistics, with the result of both fuel and food shortages among Russian troops, especially in the north, where the distance from railheads, and thus the dependence on roads and trucks, was greater. Secondly, the Russians weren‘t able to quickly establish air supremacy over Ukraine to support their ground offensive, and thirdly, they failed to coordinate ground and air operations in a mutually supporting manner. At the tactical level, finally, one could mention that the Russian forces conducted little high-tempo, combined-arms warfare with brigades or divisions, but only that on the level of BTGs. (7).

Already on the first day of the invasion the whole blitzkrieg-strategy begins to fail, with the result of the beginning logistical
problems: what would become the famous 56 km column north of Kyiv was, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in fact 10 separate Russian tactical battalion units, which had the task to overthrow Ukraine's capital city and to remove the government. Whithin eleven hours after crossing the border from Belarus the first batallion was planned to arrive at Kyiv, exactly on 24th February, 14:55. But the Russian leadership had ignored the local weather and the terrain, and thus, the vehicles soon drove straight into the mud and had to be diverted to paved roads in order to avoid soft ground. So, thousands of them were forced into a single column that soon included 1,000 tanks, 2,400 mechanised infantry vehicles and 10,000 personnel, as well as dozens of supply trucks carrying food, fuel, oil and ammunition. And the Ukrainian artillery and air force attacked it, while others blew up bridges and dams ahead of this convoy. The result was a traffic jam of 56 km length at 28th February which was finally brought to a standstill just outside of Kyiv's city boundary (62).
As for the resulting logistical problems they showed when the first armored units already pushed into Kyiv’s suburbs while the main body of Russian ground units was still miles away, their advance slowed by Ukrainian anti-armor munitions. The first of these units were thus, isolated with limited or no logistics. Over time it became increasingly difficult for the Russian army to move food, fuel, munitions, spare parts, and other supplies to forward-deployed forces. So, it had no access to rail transport that usually moves their heavy equipment, and the few roads through marsh and woodland were soon clogged with traffic. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians continued to inflict attrition using anti-tank ambushes and artillery. Although the Russians had heavier artillery to fight them, they lacked a good picture of where the dispersed Ukrainian positions were. Furthermore, the Russians failed to secure its critical lines of communication. According to Michael Kofman, director of Russia studies at CNA, a think tank in Virginia, Russian troops didn’t even execute the basics of convoy escort, that is, protection of vulnerable logistics vehicles by armored vehicles and soldiers. When forwarddeployed Russian vehicles broke down, many had to be abandoned because of a lack of spare parts, mechanics, and recovery vehicles (5).

Another good example for these logistical problems is the attack of the Russian 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade, an elite airborne regiment, on the Antonov Airport in Hostomel airport,10 km from the capital city of Kyiv, with the aim to create an airbridge. Once the airport were under Russian control, their troops, armor, artillery, ammunition and other materiel could have been airlifted there and would easily be launched into Kiev. On 24th February 2022, the first day of the war, roughly 30 Russian Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopters, flying low to evade radar, began launching guided missiles and firing 30mm cannons at the airport’s defenses, but they soon met strong resistance from Ukrainian ground units that brought down several helicopters. The attack continued for three hours, until a wave of Mi-8 transport helicopters, carrying potentially a hundred to several hundreds of Russian airborne troops, could land. Once on the ground, the Russians dispersed the small unit of Ukrainian defenders and prepared for the arrival of at least 18 Ilyushin Il-76 air-transports. But the threat of Ukrainian air defense systems prevented them from flying into Hostomel. So, the Russians dug in around the airfield and waited for reinforcements that were supposed to arrive within 24 hours. But they took significantly longer, as they were ambushed with anti-tank missiles. Two days later Ukrainian artillery slammed into the buildings killing dozens of soldiers and destroying large amounts of equipment. The extensive damage the airport received in days of heavy fighting and the deliberate damage inflicted on the airstrip rendered the airport non-operational and incapable of receiving Russian transports. “There was nothing left — not even a turret,” Ponomarev, a Russian paratrooper later captured by the Ukrainians, said. “Almost nobody survived that day.” (45)

In short, because of the rapid advance on Kyiv the problem of long and unprotected supply routes arose. The Ukrainian counter-offensive began here in mid-March and the Russian troops were unable to encircle the capital.

In the south, the Russian attack was more successful and they managed to capture some cities, most notably Kherson. Here the Ukrainians didn‘t manage to destroy the Chonhar bridge connecting Crimea with Kherson and the Antonivskiy bridge across the Dnipro river to slow down the Russians, and thus they were quickly outnumbered and outgunned. And while the Russians had air support, the Ukrainians didn‘t (65). When then, on March 1, thousands of Russian troops coming from Crimea rolled into Kherson, a lightly armed Ukrainian volunteer militia of civilians, part-time reservists and former troops was the only one to defend the city. Later, witnesses said, that Ukraine’s military was nowhere to be seen, and that the Russian troops in armored vehicles had easily entered the Shumensky neighborhood, opening fire and sending shrapnel flying everywhere. Some volunteers, hiding among the trees in the Lilac Park, were cut down so rapidly that they weren’t even able to throw the Molotov cocktails they had prepared. Within only one day Kherson fell. As for Ukraine‘s military, according to Maj. Oleksandr Fedyunin, it had withdrawn from Kherson for the southern city of Mykolaiv (68). At the beginning of March 2022, Kherson‘s mayor, Igor Kolykhaev, said Russian troops had forced their way into the city council building and seized control of the city (69).
A story of fierce Ukrainian resistance in the southeast, where the Russians advanced quickly, is that of the Ukrainian fighters in the Azovstal steel factory in the besieged city of Mariupol, a strategically important city at the Sea of Azov on the way from Russia to Crimea. After the soldiers who defended Mariupol, many of them from the nationalist Azov-Regiment, were pushed back to the sea and the Azovstal factory at the end of February, they fought there against the much stronger Russian troops outside until May 2022. Night and day, Russian ships and artillery pounded the factory, while Russian jets fired rockets and bunker-busting munitions that began to degrade the bomb shelters. In April the soldiers and civilians inside ran out of water, food and medicine, so that the first civilians were evacuated at the end of the month and the first days of May. The soldiers, above all those from the Azov Regiment who were considered as fascists by the Russians, kept fighting while the Russian shelling continued. Only during May they surrendered and the 2.500 fighters were taken to a prison camp on Russian-controlled territory in the Donetsk region, where they were interrogated, locked into cramped cells and fed just enough to keep from dying of hunger (50).

As for the Russian Aerospace Forces – the VKS, Воздушно-космические силы -, prior to the invasion Russia had deployed an impressive air and airdefense force to the region, including hundreds of advanced fighters, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft, as well as modern surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Ukraine countered this impressive fleet with a small and aging force of fourth-generation fighters, and legacy short- and medium-range SAMs.  
During the first week and a half the VKS could, like the Ukrainian air force as well, freely penetrate significant distances across the rapidly changing frontlines as the SAM defenses on both sides didn‘t perform as anticipated. During this time Russian Sukhoi bombers and fighters flew around 140 sorties per day, conducting fighter sweeps and strike sorties up to 300 km inside Ukrainian territory at altitudes of between 4.000 and 9.000 meters. Their primary targets during the first three days were the Ukrainian air defenses. Thus, they attacked over 100 fixed long-range radar installations, bases, munitions storage sites and positions occupied by mobile long- and medium-range SAM systems. They also scored multiple air-to-air kills against Ukrainian Mig- and Su- fighters, as well as against attack aircraft that were conducting strikes against Russian military convoys on the Kyiv axes. The Ukrainian fighter aircraft also managed to inflict some losses on the VKS aircraft but they took serious casualties as they were technologically outmatched and badly outnumbered (46).
But despite of its clear advantages in both force size and capability, Russian forces failed to establish air superiority. Thus, their initial strikes on February 24 were largely ineffective as they were distributed all across the country and were not targeted against critical C2 (command and control) nodes, they also failed to destroy mobile SAMs, and their targeting of Ukrainian military airfields was largely ineffective, as they did not crater runways nor destroy nearly enough combat aircraft on the ground to prevent effective Ukrainian defense. Cyberattacks and electronic warfare only had limited effects (64).
In March the Ukrainian SAMs began to inflict significant losses on the VKS, which got, as a consequence of the failed attack on Kyiv, new target orders. As a consequence the Ukrainian air defenses rapidly recovered from initial suppression and damage and at the beginning of March they began to repel the VKS near the frontlines. Together with the man-portable air-defence systems which shot down lots of Russian jets, the Ukrainians managed to keep the VKS from entering their air space in April.

Another problem arose from the design of operations centered on the use of BTGs. These were gathered together from different brigades and engaged in maneuvering and fighting without effective interaction with one another and without proper operational leadership. Furthermore, the rigid pattern of following orders meant that the commanders of BTGs were not trained in exercising tactical initiative. Thus, many generals had to leave the safety of headquarters in the far rear in order to take direct control over these disjointed BTGs. So, in April James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said: "on the Russian side, in a two-month period, we have seen at least a dozen, if not more Russian generals killed. So amazing incompetence.“ (51)

2.2 Phase 2: The War of Attrition
After Russian forces had suffered from massive attrition around Kyiv and had lost a vast quantity of military equipment, in April Moscow withdrew its troops from Kyiv, from the regions Sumy and Chernihiv and strengthened its forces in Donbass, where Ukraine's armed forces had well-prepared positions. The Russian troops now stopped trying to make deep breakthroughs, but instead began to advance slowly with massive shelling in the Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk regions, using their 12:1 advantage in artillery in the Donbass region. For the Ukrainian armed forces the largest challenge at this stage in the conflict was their equipment losses and the expenditure of ammunition. Thus, Ukraine had exhausted most of its MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) and heavier-calibre Soviet-era artillery ammunition. „Overall, during the offensive against Donbas, Russian artillery were firing around 20,000 rounds per day, with their peak fire rate surpassing 32,000 rounds on some days. Ukrainian fires rarely exceeded 6,000 rounds a day, reflecting a shortage of both barrels and ammunition“, write Mykhaylo Zabrodskyi, Jack Watling, Oleksandr Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds from the Royal United Services Institute in November 2022 (52). Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told the Guardian in June 2022: “This is an artillery war now […] and we are losing in terms of artillery. […] Everything now depends on what [the west] gives us. […] Ukraine has one artillery piece to 10 to 15 Russian artillery pieces.” (56). Thus, Russia was able to make slow and steady progress capturing cities like Mariupol, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. But in summer 2022 Ukraine got modern western arms like the US-HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems) with which it could conduct precision strikes on Russian missile batteries and ammunition depots and slowly reduce the Russian superiority in artillery.

As for the Russian navy, on 14 April 2022 its flagship, the missile cruiser „Moskva“, sank in the Black Sea, eighter because of a fire and exploded ammunition onboard, as the Russians said, or because of being hit by Ukrainian Neptune missiles, as the Ukrainians said. According to the head of the Odessa military administration Maxim Marchenko "Ракеты Нептун, стоящие на страже Черного моря, нанесли российскому кораблю очень серьезные повреждения"("The Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea inflicted very serious damage on the Russian ship"), and the Russian Ministry of Defense explained on the same day: "В результате пожара на ракетном крейсере Москва сдетонировал боезапас. Корабль получил серьезные повреждения. Экипаж полностью эвакуирован" ("As a result of a fire on the missile cruiser Moskva, ammunition detonated. The ship was seriously damaged. The crew was completely evacuated") (53). As a consequence the Russian navy did no longer approach the coast to threaten landings. But Russian ships continued firing long-range missiles against southern Ukraine.

In April Justin Bronk, Senior Research Fellow for Airpower and Technology at the Royal United Services Institute (UK defence and security think tank), wrote that Russia still wasn‘t able to conduct successful suppression and/ or destruction of enemy air defences operations and that thus, Ukrainian SAM operators maked flying over much of Ukraine at medium or high altitudes extremely hazardous for Russian fast jets and helicopters. As a consequence, most of the roughly 200–300 Russian fast jet sorties per day were limited to either fighter patrols at very high altitudes and at significant stand-off ranges, or strike sorties at night and low altitude. But at these low altitudes both fast jets and helicopters were highly vulnerable to man-portable air defence systems as for example the Stinger-missiles (47).
As for the reasons why the Russian VKS wasn‘t able to conduct such SEAD/DEAD operations, Alexander Mladenov, an internationally renowned expert on Russian and Eastern European aviation topics, explains that the Russian air force lacked effective C2 organization and capability, including established command and intelligence personnel in addition to sophisticated electronic and signals intelligence (ELINT/SIGINT) air platforms  needed for conducting of large-scale intelligence-gathering operations, like localization and designation for neutralizing of the main threat radars and C2 nodes of Ukraine’s air defenses. Especially difficult for the Russians were the Buk-M1 highly-mobile SAM systems, as they only need to activate their radar for a short time and after engagement can rapidly change their positions. Too fast for the Russian pilots who needed to get launch authorization from a C2 post before attacking a SAM battery, and this authorization process was considered as being a protracted one. Thus, there were no large formation strikes with integrated SEAD/DEAD escorts. A second reason coud be the lack of training required for conducting effective complex SEAD/DEAD operations (71).
In fall 2022 the Russian air force didn‘t fly many sorties over Ukraine anymore and mainly fired cruise missiles from bombers within Russian territory. Of the estimated 20.000 sorties, only 3.000 of them have been in Ukraine's airspace, mainly due to strong defences (48). In December the British Ministry of Defence wrote: „In recent months, the number of sorties conducted by Russian tactical combat aircraft over Ukraine has reduced significantly. Russian aircraft now probably conduct tens of missions per day, compared to a high of up to 300 per day in March 2022. Russia has now lost over 60 fixed wing aircraft in the conflict.“ (49)

During this phase of the war the geopolitical environment in Eastern Europe turns: While in 2017 NATO deployed small multinational battalion-sized battlegroups (1,000-1,500 troops each of them) in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, since February, NATO has deployed additional battlegroups in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia and decided on a more robust forward presence, including brigade-sized units: „At the extraordinary NATO Summit in Brussels on 24 March 2022, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed to establish four more multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. The establishment of four more battlegroups, together with the reinforcement of the existing four battlegroups in the northeast, has extended the Alliance’s forward presence along NATO’s eastern flank – from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south – and effectively doubled the number of troops on the ground. At the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Allies agreed to enhance the multinational battlegroups from battalion size to brigade size, where and when required. Allies also agreed a new NATO Force Model that will include more troops at high readiness and further measures to boost NATO’s ability to reinforce Allies in the east.“ (9)
As for the U.S., since February, it has increased its troops in Europe from 80,000 to more than 100,000 service members. In late June President Biden announced that the U.S. would enhance its military presence in Europe, including more naval destroyers stationed in Spain, two F-35 squadrons positioned in Britain and a permanent headquarters in Poland for the U.S. 5th Army Corps. (10)
In May Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO (11). This could make the Baltic Sea effectively a NATO lake. „Accession would tighten the strategic Nordic grip on the Baltic Sea — Russia’s maritime point of access to the city of St. Petersburg and its Kaliningrad exclave. Finland and Sweden also join them, along with Iceland, at the heart of the triangle formed with the North Atlantic and maritime areas in the Arctic, to where Russia projects its military might from the northern Kola Peninsula. Integrated NATO military planning will become a lot simpler, making the region easier to defend. […] If Finland joins, it would double the length of the alliance’s border with Russia, adding a further 1,300 kilometers (830 miles) for Moscow to defend.“ (12)

2.3 Phase 3: Ukrainian counteroffensives
In this phase it becomes clearer that Russia is running low on sophisticated missiles. As its attacks show, Russia seems to prefer now outdated, unguided and imprecise missiles, including some from the Soviet era. According to western intelligence officials „Russia used up many of its most accurate weapons, including cruise missiles and certain ballistic missiles, in the early days of the invasion. Russia’s arms industry has long relied heavily on imported electronic parts. As a result, analysts say, sanctions and export controls appear to have limited the Kremlin’s ability to restock its supplies, leaving it to rely more on unguided munitions.“ (13) US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed this assessment on November 16, when he said in a press briefing that the Russians lost a lot of troops and a lot of important military gear. „So, the numbers of tanks that they've lost, the numbers of armored personnel carriers, pretty staggering numbers. As important, the numbers of precision guided munitions that they've rifled through in this endeavor is striking.“ And because of trade restrictions the Russians wouldn‘t be able to reproduce those munitions quickly. (14)
A further sign for Russia‘s military supply problems as a result of the sanctions could be that Russia has been buying military drones from Iran and, according to intelligence sources, artillery shells and rockets from North Korea. „Russia has begun raining Iranian-made drones and loitering munitions down on Ukraine, using them to attack both infrastructure and civilians. So far, the operational impact of these drones appears to be limited. However, if Russia deploys them in greater numbers, begins to use them in combination with other systems or in swarms, or better integrates them within its military operations, they could still pose a significant threat to Ukrainian forces, civilians, and infrastructure.“ Used are for example the Mohajer-6, used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance as well as strike operations, and the Shahed-136, a small satellite-guided missile used only to directly attack targets. (15)

The third phase starts on September 6th with the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv oblast (in the northeast of Ukraine) where it could retake a large territory in a few days. In preparation of this counterattack the Ukrainians were already talking in summer about a looming counteroffensive on the southern Ukrainian Kherson Oblast and shifted some of their forces there. At the same time they used US-supplied HIMARS in Kherson and Kharkiv to destroy key elements of the Russian defence up to 70 kilometers behind Russian lines, such as command centres, ammunition dumps, supply hubs and bridges. The Russians were confused about where the counterattack would start and moved a significant amount of its forces from the north-east to the south (35). Mason Clark, ISW Russia team lead, explains that when the counteroffensive in Kharkiv started the Russians had already moved their trained troops to Kherson to fight the long announced Ukrainian counteroffensive there. But thus, they had left the northeast vulnerable since it was mostly guarded by inexperienced soldiers. So, when the Ukrainians did strike their attack in Kharkiv, they didn‘t hit much resistance there (16). Some days later, Taras Berezovets, press officer for the Bohun brigade of Ukraine’s special forces, said that the announced counteroffensive in Kherson was, in reality, a trick to divert Russian attention: “[It] was a big special disinformation operation”. “[Russia] thought it would be in the south and moved their equipment. Then, instead of the south, the offensive happened where they least expected, and this caused them to panic and flee.” (36)
As a reaction to this defeat, Russia declared a partial mobilization of military reservists on 21.09.2022 (17). But although Defense Minister Shoigu planned to mobilize 300,000 recruits (18), the exact number of people to be mobilized is classified. In the above-mentionned Ukaz the respective paragraph 7 remains a secret. The "Novaya Gazeta. Europe" wrote the following day that it had a source in the presidential administration who told them that this secret seventh paragraph allowed the Ministry of Defense to call up one million people (19).  Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied this and called the reports "a lie." (20). On November 5, the UK Ministry of Defence stated  that many new recruits were being deployed to the front lines in Ukraine without any training or proper equipment: „Newly mobilised conscripts likely have minimal training or no training at all. […] Deploying forces with little or no training provides little additional offensive combat capability.“ (21)
About three weeks after the start of the counteroffensive Russia annexes four Ukrainian oblasts after so-called referendums: „Today we will sign treaties on the accession of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Lugansk People’s Republic, Zaporozhye Region and Kherson Region to the Russian Federation.“ Putin declares, then he adds: „I want the Kiev authorities and their true handlers in the West to hear me now, and I want everyone to remember this: the people living in Lugansk and Donetsk, in Kherson and Zaporozhye have become our citizens, forever. […] We will defend our land with all the forces and resources we have, and we will do everything we can to ensure the safety of our people.“ (22)   
But the Ukrainians were not impressed. The next successful Ukrainian counteroffensive took place in the south, in the Kherson oblast at the beginning of October: Near the town Kherson in the south of Ukraine a Ukrainian tank offensive achieved a big breakthrough, as they broke through the front and advanced rapidly along the west bank of the Dnipro River in the direction of the town Dudchany, about 30 kilometers to the south. As Ukraine already had destroyed the bridges crossing the river, a substancial advanve could have cut off entirely up to 25.000 Russian troops from their supply lines (23). After weeks of Ukrainian artillery fire, Russian general Surovikin recommended Defense Minister Shoigu on November 9 the retreat of the Russian troops of the west side of the Dnipro river because of the growing difficulties to supply these troops:  
„Порядка 80-90% ракет сбиваются российскими средствами ПВО. В то же время до 20% из них все же достигают своих целей. Инженерные подразделения группировки войск практически ежедневно восстанавливают днепровские переправы и принимают меры по поддержанию их в работоспособном состоянии", - сказал Суровикин. По его словам, в этих условиях город Херсон и прилегающие населенные пункты не могут полноценно снабжаться и функционировать.“
„About 80-90% of the missiles are shot down by Russian air defense systems. At the same time, up to 20% of them still reach their targets. The engineering units of the group of troops restore the Dnieper crossings almost daily and take measures to keep them in working condition," Surovikin said. According to him, under these conditions, the city of Kherson and the surrounding settlements cannot be fully supplied and function.“ (24)
In the fall of 2022, after the West had meanwhile provided Ukraine with military support worth more than 40 billion US dollars, it was slowly becoming clear that it too could become problems with the delivery of weapons: namely if it continued to only send weapons from existing stocks and does not give the defense industry new long-term orders for additional production. In December the US has already sent a third of its stockpile of Javelin anti-tank missiles and a third of its Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, but the defense industry cannot replace them anytime soon. And as for the Europeans, their weapons stocks are even skimpier (25). At the same time a study of December 2022 by the Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych found that Ukraine had, compared to Russia, serious gaps regarding heavy conventional armaments, such as heavy gun and rocket artillery, armored and motorized troops, long-range missiles, air force, drones and loitering munitions, and anti-aircraft defense systems, and that this asymmetry persisted despite high Russian losses (37). This means that the West is now faced with the decision of whether it wants to start exploiting its decisive long-term advantage in the conflict with Russia: that of its more efficient armaments industries.

2.4: Phase 4: Stabilization of the front, drone and missile warfare
As for the beginning of winter, the offensives have come to an halt and the Russians dig in, build trenches and tank trap fortifications in eastern Kherson oblast, east of the Dnipro, and in eastern Ukraine. In the south they especially fortify their positions along critical ground lines of communications connecting them with southeastern rear areas in Kherson Oblast and Crimea as well as with eastern rear areas around Melitopol, Zaporizhia Oblast (26). Also in the east of the country Russia is building a vast network of trenches, traps and obstacles, multiple rows of defenses lining major highways just behind the frontlines. Thus, they hope to slow Ukraine’s army and buy crucial time to mobilize and train additional troops (27). A good example for the World War I style trench warfare in Eastern Ukraine is the one in the region of Popasna and Bakhmut where the Wagner mercenary-group successfully sends former prisoners with three weeks of training into the trenches to fight against the Ukrainian army (31). As for the latter one, the Ukrainians, they are waiting for the Russians in Bakhmut, a town which they made a fortress, as Wagner-chief Prigozhin himself told: “In Artemovsk [the Russian name for Bakhmut], every house has become a fortress. Our guys sometimes fight for more than a day over one house. Sometimes they fight for weeks over one house. And behind this house, there is still a new line of defence, and not one. And how many such lines of defence are there in Artemovsk? Five hundred would probably not be an exaggeration.” (33)

At the same time, beginning in October 2022, Russia attacks the Ukrainian energy system in an attempt to implement the concept of a Strategic Operation for the Destruction of Critically Important Targets (SODCIT) to “demoralize the population and ultimately force the state’s leaders to capitulate” (28). Thus on December 16, for example, the Ukrainian energy supplier Ukrenergo announced: „Нагадаємо, 16 грудня, внаслідок масованих ракетних обстрілів з боку РФ електроенергетичної інфраструктури України відбулася втрата понад 50% споживання об'єднаної енергетичної системи.“ („We will remind, on December 16, as a result of massive missile attacks by the Russian Federation on the electric power infrastructure of Ukraine, there was a loss of more than 50% of the consumption of the unified energy system.“ (29)

But while Ukraine will get, as a consequence of these bombardings, at least one US Patriot air defense battery to protect at longer ranges (30), Russia could get a problem with the availability of suitable weapons for its attacks. Thus, the UK Ministry of Defence wrote on 01.12.: „its [the SODCIT‘s] effectiveness as a strategy has likely been blunted because Russia has already expended a large proportion of its suitable missiles against tactical targets.“ On 6th January 2023 Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov published a tweet about Russia‘s high-precision missile arsenal showing that Russia probably has expended 81 percent of its strategic missile stocks, 22 percent of its tactical missile stocks, and 88 percent of its Shahed drones (34). Vadym Skibitsky, the representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (GUR), said on 4th January 2023 that Russian forces already have used about 660 Iranian-made Shahed-drones in Ukraine and that they used them now in massive swarms to break through the Ukrainian air defenses (32).
At the end of January the US and Germany decided to send battle tanks to Ukraine providing a pathway for about a dozen other European countries to donate their own German-made Leopard 2s to Ukraine. In spring or summer the country could get 31 US M1 Abrams, 14 German Leopard 2, 14 British Challenger 2 and 14 Polish Leopard 2 for example. In all, at least 105 Western tanks have been committed. But considering the thousands of tanks the Russians still have available, the Ukrainians say they need at least 300 Western tanks to make a difference in the war. David Silbey, a military historian at Cornell University, thinks that the West can‘t deliver as much tanks as the Russians have, “[b]ut, given the quality advantage of the Leopard or Abrams over even the most modern Russian tank, if the West could supply 500 to 1,000 tanks, it would make a massive difference to the Ukrainians and to the war”, he said (44).
On the other hand, Russian president Putin said on 18th January 2023, two days before the meeting of Ukraine‘s most important military supporters in Ramstein, that Russia had no problems with the availability of weapons. At a visit of the Obukhov plant, which is part of the Almaz-Antey aerospace defense concern, he talked with workers, who already worked three shifts a day, and spoke about the revival of the Russian defense inductry taking place since 2013: „после того как отдельные наши так называемые партнёры ушли с нашего рынка, а уровень нашего производства стал достаточно высоким, наши предприятия весьма легко перехватывают то, что было оставлено этими самыми партнёрами. То есть мы сами стали в состоянии производить то, что вчера ещё не могли. Конечно, это не значит, что мы можем производить все 100 процентов, но мы добьёмся того уровня производства, который нам нужен.“ („after some of our so-called partners have left our market, and our production level has become quite high, our enterprises very easily intercept what was left by these same partners. That is, we ourselves have become able to produce what yesterday we could not. Of course, this does not mean that we can produce everything 100 percent, but we will achieve the level of production that we need.“) (38).

2.5 Phase 5: Russian winter offensive in Donbass
In February 2023, before the muddy season of spring, Russia started an offensive in Donbass around the towns of Kreminna, Vuhledar, and Bakhmut with the aim of capturing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (43). A center of the Russian efforts was still Bakhmut which they still tried to encircle, inching forward while the Ukrainians digged fallback defenses (54). In March 2023 the Wagner Group had gained control of the east of Bakhmut up to the Bakhmutka River which passes through the town, through a strip of open ground 200 meters to 800 meters wide. The Ukrainians had already destroyed the bridges there. From the western side of this river they fired from fortified buildings, so that this area had become a killing zone, making it highly challenging for the Wagner forces to continue their frontal assault westwards (70).
Involved in the whole Donbas offensive were on each side hundreds of thousands of troops (55), but according to British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Russia had not been able to amass a single force to „punch through“ Ukraine's defences. Rather, „we've just seen an effort to advance“. And this, he said, Russia did „in a sort of human way, almost First World War levels of attrition and with success rates of a matter of metres rather than kilometres.“ Later he added that „[...] 97% of the Russian army is now committed to Ukraine, with an attrition rate very, very high, and potentially their combat effectiveness depleted by 40%, and nearly two thirds of their tanks destroyed or broken“ (39). And while the western tanks could arrive in spring, the Russian „military industrial output is becoming a critical weakness“, with „[p]roduction [...] almost certainly falling short of the Russian MoD‘s demands to resource the Ukraine campaign and restore its longer-term defence requirements“, wrote the UK Ministry of Defence on 15 February 2023 on twitter (40). On February 19 the ISW wrote that the Russian lack of tanks meanwhile was so enormous - „amounting to the equivalent of around 16 tank regiments worth“ (that is about 1.600 tanks) - that it hindered them from making any significant breakthroughs (60).
One also could mention that the Russians seem to make a change away from various non-standard and non-doctrinal structures like the the BTGs, militias of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and the Wagner Private Military Company towards doctrinal structures, what ISW assesses as one of various reforms to formalize and professionalize the Russian Armed Forces and prepare them to fight a protracted war in Ukraine as a conventional army (61).
On 31 March 2023, the deadline of the Kremlin for seizing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts passed without the Russian troops having achieved this goal (73). Only in Bakhmut Russia made some gains in April as it „highly likely advanced into the town centre, and has seized the west bank of the Bakhmutka River“, severely threatening Ukraine‘s key supply route to the west of the town (74).
What the Russians still had in February 2023, was their airforce. But this they didn‘t use very much against Ukraine: „the VKS likely maintains a largely intact fleet of approximately 1,500 crewed military aircraft, despite losing over 130 since the start of the invasion“, writes the Britisch Ministry of Defence on February 16. „Russian air power continues to significantly underperform in the war, constrained by a continued high threat by Ukrainian air defences and dispersed basing due to the threat of strikes against Russian airfields. Russian combat jets operate almost exclusively over Russian-held territory, preventing them from carrying out their key strike role effectively.“ (66). An example for the Russian reaction to strikes against Russian airfields is that of the Engels airfield, located approximately 700 km from the territory controlled by Ukraine. In December 2022, Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, announced that the Russians transferred their Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers to Primorsky Krai in the Far East after explosions on this airfield (67).

As for the „high threat by Ukrainian air defences“, two leaked secret Pentagon documents of 28 February 2023 refer to these air defenses and assess that Ukraine was running out of ammunitions. In one of them one can read: „Assessment: 1. SA-10 and SA-11 comprise 89% of Ukraine‘s Air Defense medium/high-range, medium/high-range protection (>20,000 ft). Based on current interceptor consumption: BUK (SA-11) will be completely depleted by 31 MAR 2023. S300 (SA-10) will have be completely depleted by 02 MAY 2023. […] Risks: 1. Increased Russian capabilities: Air Superiority: A2AD [air-to-air defense], and bomber freedom of aerial maneuver (i.e. unguided munitions, etc.). Ground attack capabilities against the Ukrainian FLOT [front line of troops] and counteroffensive (i.e. localized air superiority, CAS, ISR, etc.). [...]“ (76)

On 4 April 2023 Finland finally joined NATO bringing the alliance thus in the north at Russia‘s border. While officially welcoming the country as member, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg added “Instead of less NATO, he [Putin] has achieved the opposite; more NATO and our door remains firmly open” (72).

(1) Dan Bilefsky, Richard Pérez-Peña and Eric Nagourney: The Roots of the Ukraine War: How the Crisis Developed, 12.10.2022,
(2) Russia slams US Aegis Ashore missile deployment in Europe as direct breach of INF Treaty, TASS, 26.11.2018,
(3) Address by the President of the Russian Federation, 24.02.2022,
(4) Blitzkrieg to Attrition - 3 Stages of Russian Failure, 02.11.2022,
(5) Seth G. Jones: Russia’s Ill-Fated Invasion of Ukraine Lessons in Modern Warfare, CSIS Briefs, June 2022, ; Bonnie Berkowitz and Artur Galocha: Why the Russian military is bogged down by logistics in Ukraine, 30.03.2022, ; Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds: Operation Z. The Death Throes of an Imperial Delusion. RUSI Special Report, 22.04.2022,
(6) Павел Аксенов: Невыученные уроки "Стратегии" Свечина. Разбираем войну в Украине при помощи классического военного труда, 12.09.2022,
(7) Robert Dalsjö, Michael Jonsson & Johan Norberg (2022) A Brutal Examination: Russian Military Capability in Light of the Ukraine War, Survival, 64:3, 7-28, ; Pavel Baev: Russia’s War in Ukraine: Misleading Doctrine, Misguided Strategy, Russie.Nei.Reports, No. 40, Ifri, October 2022
(8) А.А.Свечин: “Стратегия. Искусство политики и войны”, 1928 год, quoted in:  Павел Аксенов: Невыученные уроки "Стратегии" Свечина
(9) NATO: NATO’s military presence in the east of the Alliance, last updated 21.12.2022,
(10) Tamara Keith: Biden is boosting U.S. troops in Europe because of Russia's war in Ukraine, 29.06.2022,
(11) NATO: News: Finland and Sweden complete NATO accession talks, 04.07.2022,
(12) Lorne Cook: Russia Ukraine war: What it means if Finland and Sweden join Nato – explainer, 13.05.2022,
(13) Mike Ives: Here’s what Russia’s attacks may indicate about its weapons stockpile, 11.10.2022,
(14) Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Army General Mark A. Milley, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hold a Press Briefing Following Ukrainian Defense Contact Group Meeting, 16.11.2022,
(15) Federico Borsari: No loitering: What Russia’s Iranian drones could mean for Ukraine, European Council on Foreign Relations, 21 October 2022,
(16) How Ukraine got the upper hand against Russia, 17.09.2022,
(17) Указ «Об объявлении частичной мобилизации в Российской Федерации», 21 сентября 2022 года,
(18) Путин объявил о частичной мобилизации в России, BBC News Russian, 21.09.2022,
(19) засекреченный пункт указа о мобилизации позволяет Минобороны призвать один миллион человек, 22.09.2022,
(20) Песков опроверг информацию о планах мобилизовать миллион человек, РИА Новости, 22.09.2022,
(21) UK Ministry of Defence, Intelligence update Ukraine, 05.11.2022,
(22) Signing of treaties on accession of Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics and Zaporozhye and Kherson regions to Russia, 30.09.2022,
(24) Суровикин заявил о невозможности полноценно снабжать Херсон, РИА Новости, 09.11.2022,
(25) John Paul Rathbone, Sylvia Pfeifer, Steff Chávez: Military briefing: Ukraine war exposes ‘hard reality’ of west’s weapons capacity,, 02.12.2022
(26) ISW, 27.11.2022,
(27) Marco Hernandez and Josh Holder: Defenses Carved Into the Earth, The New York Times, 14.12.2022,
(28) UK Ministry of Defence, Intelligence update Ukraine, 01.12.2022,
(30) US Department of Defense, Ukraine Getting Patriot Battery, Other Defense Weapons, 21.12.2022,
(31) about the Wagner tactics there is a good article by Jury Butusov: Юрій Бутусов: Тактика "Вагнера": як досягають результатів зеки з тритижневою підготовкою та як їх б’ють?, 24.11.2022,
(32) Головне управління розвідки Міністерства оборони України: російські терористи використали близько 660 іранських “шахедів”, 4 січня 2023 року,
(33) quoted in: Peter Beaumont and Pjotr Sauer: ‘Every house a fortress’: Wagnerleader counts cost as Russia stalls in Bakhmut, 03.01.2023,
(34) Ukrainian Defense Minister Reznikov on twitter, 06.01.2023:
(35) Henry Foy, Sam Joiner, Sam Learner and Caroline Nevitt: The 90km journey that changed the course of the war in Ukraine, 28.09.2022,
(36) quoted in: Isobel Koshiw, Lorenzo Tondo and Artem Mazhulin: Ukraine’s southern offensive ‘was designed to trick Russia’, 10.09.2022,
(37) Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski: Pomoc wojskowo-techniczna dla Ukrainy ocena potrzeb krótko-i srednioterminowych, Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych, December 2022
(38) Посещение Обуховского завода, 18 января 2023 года,
(39) Ukraine war: Ben Wallace says 97% of Russian army is in Ukraine - BBC News, 15.02.2023,
(40) UK Ministry of Defence Intelligence update Ukraine, 15.02.2023,
(41) Andrew Roth and Julian Borger: Putin orders troops into eastern Ukraine on ‘peacekeeping duties’, 21.02.2022,
(42) Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 21.02.2022 № 71 «О признании Донецкой Народной Республики», 21.02.2022, , Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 21.02.2022 № 72 «О признании Луганской Народной Республики», 21.02.2022,
(43)  Tara Law: Ukraine is Anticipating A New Russian Offensive. Here’s What to Know, 17.02.2023,
(44) Lara Jakes and Thomas Gibbons-Neff: Western tanks are coming to Ukraine, but will they be enough?, 26.01.2023,
(45) James Beardsworth and Irina Shcherbakova: ‘Are There Even Any Left?’ 100 Days of War in Ukraine For an Elite Russian Unit, 04.06.2022, ; Andrew McGregor: Russian Airborne Disaster at Hostomel Airport, 08.03.2022, AIS Special Report on Ukraine No.1,
(46) Justin Bronk with Nick Reynolds and Jack Watling: The Russian Air War and Ukrainian Requirements for Air Defence, RUSI Special Report 07.11.2022, pp.6-16,
(47) Justin Bronk: Getting Serious About SEAD: European Air Forces Must Learn from the Failure of the Russian Air Force over Ukraine, 06.04.2022,
(48) Thomas Harding: Russian air force fails to dominate Ukraine's skies, 07.12.2022,
(49) UK Ministry of Defence, Intelligence update Ukraine, 5 December 2022,
(50) Michael Schwirtz: Last Stand at Azovstal: Inside the Siege That Shaped the Ukraine War, 27.07.2022,
(51) Xander Landen: Russia's Loss of Generals Shows 'Amazing Incompetence': Stavridis, 01.05.2022, ; Pavel Baev: Russia’s War in Ukraine: Misleading Doctrine, Misguided Strategy, Russie.Nei.Reports, No. 40, Ifri, October 2022
(52) Mykhaylo Zabrodskyi, Jack Watling, Oleksandr V Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds: Preliminary Lessons in Conventional Warfighting from Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: February–July 2022, RUSI Special Report, 30 November 2022, p.39,
(53) Тетяна Коваленко: "Москва утонула". Как ВСУ поразили флагман ЧФ РФ, 14.04.2022,
(54) Steve Hendrix and Serhii Korolchuk: As Russians inch forward near Bakhmut, Ukrainians dig fallback defenses, 16.02.2023,
(55) estimates about the Russian troops in Ukraine vary between three divisions (Kateryna Stepanenko from the ISW) and 97% of the whole Russian army (British Defense SecretaryBen Wallace)
(56) Isobel Koshiw: We’re almost out of ammunition and relying on western arms, says Ukraine, 10.06.2022,
(57) Seth G. Jones: Russia’s Ill-Fated Invasion of Ukraine. Lessons in Modern Warfare, CSIS Briefs, June 2022,
(58) Lester W Grau and Charles K Bartles: Getting to Know the Russian Battalion Tactical Group, RUSI Commentary, 14.04.2022,
(59) ТАСС: Шойгу заявил, что в армии России насчитывается 168 батальонно-тактических групп, 10.08.2021,
(60) Karolina Hird and Frederick W. Kagan: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 19, 2023,
(61) Karolina Hird and Frederick W. Kagan: Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, February 19, 2023
(62) BBC News: How Russia's 35-mile armoured convoy ended in failure, 22.02.2023,
(63) Mykhaylo Zabrodskyi, Jack Watling, Oleksandr V Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds: Preliminary Lessons in Conventional Warfighting from Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: February–July 2022, RUSI Special Report, 30 November 2022,
(64) Tyson Wetzel: Ukraine air war examined: A glimpse at the future of air warfare, 30.08.2022,
(65) Abdujalil Abdurasulov: Ukraine war: How Russia took the south - and then got stuck, 27.02.2023,
(66) Ministry of Defence: Intelligence update Ukraine, 16.02.2023,
(67) Дмитро Гриниченко: РФ перекинула Ту-95МС та Ту-22М3 у Приморський край. Їх уже залишилося не так багато – Данілов, 27.12.2022,
(68) Sam Mednick: Kherson’s rapid fall at start of Russian invasion leaves unanswered questions, 18.12.2022,
(69) BBC: Ukraine: Russian troops take control of key city of Kherson – mayor, 03.03.2022,
(70) UK Ministry of Defence: Intelligence update 11.03.2023,
(71) Alexander Mladenov: Investigating Russia's lack of SEAD/DEAD capabilities over Ukraine, 19.08.2022,
(72) NATO-News: Finland joins NATO as 31st Ally, 04.04.2023,
(73) UK Ministry of Defence: Intelligence update Ukraine, 01.04.2023,
(74) UK Ministry of Defence: Intelligence update Ukraine, 07.04.2023,  


Back to content