Russia is waging a war of aggression against Ukraine, but its plans keep slipping. Hence, it keeps updating them.
We are reviewing the first 30 days of the 2nd phase of the “special operation”, as the Kremlin calls this war. A “big-star” Gen. Dvornikov (translated as janitor’s) got appointed for this phase. He started applying the ISIS small-group tactic that he learned in Syria where Russia has been propping a hereditary dictator.
From the very beginning of the invasion, the Russians did not mention any phases whatsoever. The plan of the invasion was simple: an offensive from all borders, massive rocket fire, and the rapid capture of the capital of frightened Ukrainians who had been subjected to a propaganda machine.
The Russian Federation defined the goals of the “special operations” of the early days as punitive rather than military:
– de-Nazifying the population,
– imposing a neutral status of Ukraine and demilitarizing its territory, and
– completing the secession from Ukraine of the two separatist states artificially created by the Kremlin in Donbas while expanding their territory.
Why is the 2nd phase now?
Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Less than two months later it became clear that the plan had failed. Due to the overestimation of its forces and the underestimation of Ukraine’s defense capabilities, the Russian army proved incapable of solving the Kremlin’s initial tasks. As a result, the Russians shamefully retreated from Kyivv and the north of the country.
On April 22, Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekayev, the deputy commander of the Central Military District, said that the 1st phase of the “special operation” had been completed, and the 2nd phase was underway. Its essence was to capture eastern and southern Ukraine, in particular:
– Land corridor to the Crimea.
– Access to Transnistria (Trans-Dnister Region).
In the 2nd phase, the theses about de-Nazifying or demilitarizing vanished. However, if earlier Russia stated that the operation was not aimed at occupying Ukraine, now the Russians are occupying the territories, immediately appointing collaborationists as administrators and hanging tricolors.
This is proof that in fact the entire so-called “special operation” had one goal – the occupation of Ukraine’s east and Black and Azov seashores, plus installing a puppet government in Kyiv that pursues Putin’s policies for the rest of the territories, i.e. full de facto control over the sliced Ukraine.
After losing the battle for Kyiv, the plan changed. Russia is moving in its most strategic direction, concentrating all of its power of 170,000 soldiers, as it plans to grab as much land in the east and the south as possible.
So let’s analyze the 30 days of the 2nd phase, comparing it with the 30 days of the 1st phase, and all of the 1st phase.
Russian losses in the first 30 days of
the 1st phase vs. the 2nd phase
Source: official reports of Ukraine, which are quoted by leading world news outlets and are not contested by experts and thought leaders.
What happened in the 1st phase?
In the 1st phase, Russia suffered huge losses, especially in the first 30 days of the war, when nearly 550 invading fighters were eliminated daily. In total, Russia lost more than 21,000 servicemen in 56 days of the 1st phase of the “special operation” – see table on top.
The FSB, a KGB offshoot, felt the results of the “special operation” on the 15th day, on March 11. Then the head of the almighty 5th Department International Communications Col. Gen. Sergei Beseda and his deputy, Anatoly Bolyukh, were placed under house arrest along with other embezzlers. All of them were involved in manipulative communications and apparently reported to Putin that the money they’d been spending had prepared Kyiv and Ukraine for obedience and reverence for Russia.
Army Gen. Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed as the “special operation” commander on April 9. Before that, Russia had no central command and relied on the FSB and the General Staff instead.
Russia got so afraid of the casualties that it resorted to the ISIS tactics. Instead of engaging battalions that were made of several hundred soldiers, Dvornikov decided to engage fighting groups of platoon size (approx. 30 service members) or company size (approx. 100 service members). These groups target specific towns, villages, or even intersections. The Pentagon confirmed that Russia uses this tactic to The Washington Post.
The sinking of the Moskva cruiser on April 13, 2022 was a loud message to Russia. The Black Sea Fleet flagship was a media darling, especially after the invasion of Crimea. Two missiles made by Ukraine struck her when her radars were distracted by a flock of drones. The commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Igor Osipov, was most likely arrested, as he failed to appear at the Black Sea Fleet Day on May 13 and other public events.
This loss was so resonant that it led to the need for a public announcement of the successful completion of the 1st phase of the “special operation.” The announcement came from Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekayev, the deputy commander of the Central Military District, because it was very uncomfortable to break the news by his higher-ups.
How is it going in phase 2?
In the 2nd phase, Russia has fewer daily losses, but its troops are not advancing either.
In Donbas overall, the Russian Federation captured about 30% of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions back in 2014. The occupied territories are urbanized, and they host over 50% of the population of the regions, which amounted to more than 3 million people (of which there are about 1 million as of May 2022).
Therefore, the 2nd phase of the “special operation” was the seizure of the remaining 70% of the less urbanized area of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, which consists of agricultural fields. It is about 38 thousand km2 – more than Belgium, or Taiwan, or the US state of Maryland.
Two days before the start of the “special operation” land grab, Russia’s rubberstamping parliament recognized the “independence” of the Donetsk People’s Republic overseen by the FSB, and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” overseen by the GRU, the military intel. These two pseudo-state structures have been training grounds for the competing Russian spy organizations since 2014.
The scary FSB and GRU guarded their estates in such a way that the “cross border” trade between Donetsk and Luhansk became a source of bribes and disputes.
But against the Ukrainian echelon defense, neither the FSB nor the GRU had anything to offer to the people drafted from the occupied Luhansk and Donetsk territories, who had been previously brainwashed by the propaganda, blackmailed, and sent to the battle zone for the offensive.
As a result, 30 days of war did not complete the occupation of the entire 52 thousand km2 of Luhansk and Donetsk Regions which constitute almost 9% of the territory of Ukraine.
Donetsk Region. The town of Kramatorsk, population of 150,000, which has become the de facto regional center of the Donetsk Region, is defended by Ukraine. Heavy fighting is ongoing but the retreat is not on the agenda for the Ukrainian army. The biggest consequence of the war, however, is the terrifying conditions of civilians who were shelled by Russia even during the evacuation.
In 3 months, the Russians were barely able to completely capture Mariupol, which is very close to the zone of demarcation with the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and so, Mariupol was surrounded before the 2nd phase of the “special operation”.
In the Donetsk direction, the Russians have no success at all.
Luhansk Region. With heavy losses, the Russian army has made little progress in the Luhansk Region and it still does not control Lysychansk or Severodonetsk.
Just like Kramatorsk, the town of Severodonetsk, the de facto administrative center of the Luhansk Region, is heroically defended. The fighting destroyed a city of over 100,000 people.
At the same time, Russian troops suffered losses near Kharkiv, which is the second most-populous city in Ukraine, and were forced to retreat to the border and to transfer troops to the Luhansk direction.
In the south of Ukraine, the Russians not only failed to conduct offensive operations, but also lost the strategic advantage of the naval artillery after the Moskva cruiser got sunken. Thanks to the Ukrainian warplanes, Russia cannot control the Serpent Island captured at the beginning of the invasion. So, now Russia struggles with keeping the previously-occupied positions.
The Kherson Region came under partial occupation in the 1st phase of the “special operation” for objective reasons: the substantial numerical advantage of the Russian army, the proximity to Crimean logistics centers, fire potential from the seas, and the danger of seaborne landing, especially in Odesa. Moreover, Ukrainian air defense were desperately repulsing airstrikes on Kyiv and all of Ukraine.
Kherson was defending itself heroically during the 1st phase of the land grab “special operation.” Ukraine responded to the Russian propaganda that stated that the city fell by a meme – “Kher-” is occupied but “-son” does not. Yet, the potential for fire and logistical support from Crimea has made the Kherson situation more dangerous than that near Kyiv.
The south of the Zaporizhzhia Region came under occupation in the 1st phase, particularly around the towns of Berdyansk (100 thousand inhabitants, the name comes from the Turkic word “berde” for god-given) and Melitopol (150 thousand inhabitants, the name comes from the Greek word “miel” for honey). Resistance groups are most active between these two cities, and the occupation authorities control the security of only the premises, in which they are located. And when Ukraine began to hit Russian ships with missiles, the danger of seaborne landing in critical areas of the coastline has decreased significantly.
Therefore, the price of the Black Sea strip captured in the 1st phase of the “special operation” is the inconceivable casualties of the Russian army in northern Ukraine, particularly near Kyiv, where Ukraine concentrated its troops.
The attack from three sides was meant to intimidate. The thoughtful defense allowed the Ukrainian army not to lose combat capability and to prove to the world that Ukraine is trustworthy for military assistance.
Of today’s Russian army losses that rapidly approach 30 thousand service members, 21 thousand are lost between February 24 and April 23.
Access to Transnistria. In May, Russia ordered Transnistria to do saber rattling. Yet, Russia doesn’t stand a chance for a military victory, especially given the tactic of ISIS.
One can already state that the 2nd phase of the “special operation” will not end with the implementation of even the minimum plan, which is the capture of Donbas. The south of Ukraine already looks like an unattainable dream for the Russians.
Reality is forcing Russia to reduce its appetites. The military equipment from foreign partners is gradually arriving in Ukraine. It’s noteworthy that for the first three months, Ukraine fought with its own weapons except for the anti-tank systems.
New technology and the announced US Lend-Lease that’s about to start will change the balance of the parties permanently. The Kremlin understands that, and so it seems that we will get a 3rd phase of the “special operation,” where the Russians will announce new goals commensurate with the real situation.
It can’t be ruled out that the next targets will have to do with the defense of the invaded territories, as Russia’s offensive capabilities are underwhelming.
The Ukrainian society must also draw conclusions. If one is attacked from all sides, the best strategy is to counterattack in one direction and save strength in other directions. This is to say that the Ukrainian military leadership took the correct defense strategy and saved the troops and the combat capability.
“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him,” wrote Sun Tzu in The Art of War 2500 years ago. “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight” is his first rule for victory.
Ukraine appears to be a better student of history than Russia. But ISIS also does have some vicious lessons that Ukraine should be prepared for. The Atlantic quoted its ideologues who called on their sympathizers to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” Hence, Ukraine needs to be prepared for a terrorist style of warfare as well. The war is not over yet.