Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Active combat operations on the Donbass. When, who, and how
serious? There is plenty of guessing and speculation on this topic, and there
will be even more as actual combat operations approach.
It would be naïve and stupid to expect large-scale offensive
operations by the junta in the upcoming weeks. The Debaltsevo debacle hurt not
only the troops’ morale and self-esteem. It also inflicted colossal, on UAF scale,
equipment losses. The winter campaign cost it more than a quarter of all of its
armored vehicles and tanks, up to 1/6th of all artillery. Most of
those losses are total and irreversible.
Of course, whatever damaged equipment could have been
repaired was already returned into service, but the winter losses cannot be
replaced by anything. UAF units are adopting new organizational structures:
four-gun artillery batteries, some of the field battalions are no longer
mechanized but merely infantry, and all new units being formed are designated
as infantry right from the start. Nobody even pretends they are mechanized.
Artillery situation is more or less stable. But here too
there were significant changes. UAF artillery is increasingly towed, which
makes it rather vulnerable in a modern war. Moreover, there is a shortage of
some towed cannon (e.g., Msta-B 152mm howitzers).
Tank units are constantly reducing the number of
combat-ready units. The time when the UAF could simultaneously field 10 tank
battalions with full equipment and trained crews has long passed. The shortage
of both was already visible in the winter campaign. Training unit crews were
sent into battle to reinforce the line formation. There is no equipment and no
personnel to form new units. There is no more long-term storage equipment
available for use. Everything that was usable was already sent to line units,
and some of it was lost in battle. The number of new tanks built can be counted
on the fingers of one hand. Everything that is advertised as new is in actuality
thoroughly overhauled old tank hulls, of which there are still about 2,000 available.
However, there are no spare parts, no factory capacity and…no money to allow
for mass production. Therefore the UAF can concentrate no more than 6-7 tank
battalion equivalents, including equipment from training units. Formally there
are 12-13 tank battalions, but their equipment strength is around 50%.
Moreover, the pace of equipment construction means that the UAF can at most add
one battalion in two months, provided it suffers no losses at the front.
The situation is hardly better in other armored vehicles. Its
deliveries are being delayed. The reasons are banal and even slightly comical.
The West, by introducing sanctions against Russia, also de-facto organized a
military-technical blockade of Ukraine. There are many critically important
components, first and foremost engines, which Ukraine does not manufacture and
cannot obtain from abroad. Western suppliers have all refused. This led to the
collapse of many important programs: the deliveries of Dozor-B vehicles have
never even begun, the number of KrAZ trucks for military needs is only a few
dozen per month even though theoretically the industry could build hundreds,
BTR production is delayed by shortage of spare parts which are badly needed to
repair damaged equipment.
All of these factors have forced the junta to deprive of
their mobility not only new units, many of which are yet to be created, but
also the “mechanized” units of the old UAF brigades. I cannot help but agree
with Tsenzor.net chief editor Yuriy Butusov that the partial skimming of such
an expensive resource as heavy equipment in order to provide it to newly formed
units is a harmful rather than helpful measure. The new units will not be
battle-ready by summer, and the absence of armor in old units will greatly
reduce their offensive capabilities.
But that’s not the end of the problems. The first wave of
demobilization is accelerating. Kiev decided not to risk keeping the first mob
wave soldiers in uniform. This will, however temporarily, reduce the personnel
strength of the first line at the front (which was only 30-35 thousand troops
as of January). There can be no increase in the personnel strength until the
new contingents are trained (May-June), it’s also debatable if they can retain
the current personnel strength. Moreover, the experienced soldiers who are
being demobilized will be replaced by whoever could be snagged and sent into
uniform from all over Ukraine.
Conclusion. I’m still of the opinion that the Junta will not
conduct offensive operations. They have no capacity for them. Until May-June,
they won’t even be able to maintain the personnel strength of their forces,
although that’s not the main factor. The lack of equipment and supplies is what’s
really preventing the junta from deploying a sizable military grouping.
Moreover, the number of actually combat-ready units is still in decline, and it
started in July of 2014. At that time, the active field force was 50-thousand
strong. Now it’s no more than 30 thousand. The rest are supporting units.
Nevertheless, there are forces which are not happy with
peace on the Donbass. The leadership of many “volunteer” units understands that
long peace means their rapid demise (possibly in the physical sense too). The war
can prolong their agony and even make their existence useful for the
behind-the-scenes puppetmasters. They cannot pass up this chance.
Here, too, not everything is well when it comes to
preparations for active combat operations. However, their problems are somewhat
different. The junta is ALREADY not capable of attacking, and its military
potential is decreasing with every campaign, while the republican units are NOT
YET ready to conduct large-scale offensives.
Why was the NAF able to conduct a large-scale offensive in
the summer, but not in the winter? For two reasons. In the summer, UAF units,
not expecting to come under attack by “northern wind” units, were caught in
mid-step and were thoroughly thrashed as a result. During the winter the young
Republican armies had to break into well prepared defenses. Moreover, it was
decided not to introduce the “wind of Boreas” forces into battle, while the NAF
military potential is still not up to the task of a large-scale offensive.
Planning of the second summer campaign assumes forming of a
large number of new units of the NAF (5-7 new motorized rifle brigades, 2-3
tank battalions, new artillery units). That’s the purpose of large-scale
mobilization. Not only will their personnel strength be increased, but their
firepower also, by increasing artillery and tank strength. This was made
possible by the large amount of captured equipment and Russia’s technical
support. Forming and training of new units will end not later than the end of
April (or possibly in May). By that time the NAF will be clearly superior to
the UAF not only in the technical but also in the numerical sense, and if one
considers the passive assistance of the “wind of Boreas” on secondary front
sectors, this superiority will be quite perceptible.
Conclusion. One should not expect large-scale offensive
operations by the NAF before the end of April. Moreover, premature active
operations might delay UAF “demobilization”. Of course, this still leaves
reconnaissance in force and fire preparation. Especially since it requires
several weeks, judging by the experience of the winter battles.
I don’t expect large-scale offensive operations even with
limited aims (e.g., the liberation of a city) in the next several weeks. At the same time, the situation will continue
to grow more tense. The chaos within the junta (the Poroshenko-Kolomoysky
struggle) may provoke a premature collapse of the junta, but even then it would
be dumb for the NAF to attack, before it reaches full readiness. I think that
the NAF command will not do something stupid. Besides, there’s no need to
hurry. The junta is growing weaker with every passing month.
J.Hawk’s Comment: Concerning the junta, it seems like these
days Poroshenko is mainly concerned about his “enemies within”, hence the
greater emphasis on the SBU rather than the UAF or even the National Guard. I
think that by now Poroshenko is well aware that the longer the fighting
continues, the less control over the country he will have, as all manner of “volunteer”
units spring up and start to have political opinions of their own. Moreover, it’s
not even Kolomoysky or the Right Sector that are his biggest problem. It’s the
MVD, Avakov/Turchinov and their baby, the Azov Regiment which by now could well be the most
effective single formation at the junta’s disposal, since it consists of
volunteers, it seems to be enjoying priority status for supplies of new
equipment (no overhauled junk for them, only brand-new BTR-4s and suchlike
stuff). It may well be that the SBU build-up is being launched with taking out
The UAF leadership, on the other hand, is utterly loyal. And
equally inept. But that’s how Poroshenko likes it. However, his emphasis on internal loyalty makes Ukraine far less able to conduct effective combat operations.
For comic relief, here’s another photo of Poroshenko receiving the US-provided Humvees:
There’s something vaguely Saddam Husseinish about this whole display. I mean, he is literally the only armed individual in the entire crowd. What other European leader goes around packing heat, at a public event, no less? It’s a sign of insecurity more than anything else.