Robert van Voren
MILITARY BUILDUP THREATENING UKRAINE
Dr. Phillip Karber, President, The Potomac Foundation
Given recent Russian movements of regular Army
formations into the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, deployment of increasing
numbers of troops near the border, more aggressive aerial activity and naval
active as well as implied nuclear threats – there is increase interest in the
situation. This is a brief updated summary of the military situation facing
Ukraine and assessment of Russian offensive options in the near future.
Since March, Gen. (ret.) Wesley Clark and I have
made a dozen trips to Ukraine (the latest within the last week), including
multiple visits to front line units, travel behind the lines, and being under
fire in surrounded Mariupol.
This summary is based on our direct observation
and interviews with front line commanders as well as a variety of Open Sources
(Official statements from Western and NATO leaders, press reports, Ukraine and
Russian social media, as well as Google Earth and purchased overhead satellite
imagery). As such, it is our best estimate but should be recognized as both unofficial
and not representing Western classified intelligence.
1. RUSSIAN THREAT TO UKRAINE
RUSSIAN FORCES INSIDE UKRAINE (this includes includes non-Ukrainian Chetchens,
Cossacks, "volunteers," Spetsnaz and Russian troops in the Donbas
area of Ukraine)
- 7,000+ Troops (Russian Spestnaz, Airborne and
- 100+ Tanks (including at least 40 T-90 tanks)
- 400+ Infantry Armored Vehicles (including
BTR-90 and BMP-3)
- 150+ Self-propelled Artillery & Multiple
Noteworthy is the Russian forward deployment of
heavy artillery and their most modern fire support into the Donbas since the
beginning of the Ceasefire, including
- the new longer-range BM-21 "Grad"
122mm MLRS, BM-27 "Uragan" 220mm, and BM-30 "Smerch" 300mm
MLRS firing Cannister Munitions and Thermobaric Warheads;
- 2S3 "Akatsiya" 152mm SP howitzer,
2A36 152mm long-range gun and 2S4 "Tyulpan" 240mm SP heavy mortar,
SS-21 "Tochka" Surface-to-Surface Ballistic Missile system (all of
which are capable of firing both conventional and low yield nuclear warheads);
- combined with new Russian UAV/RPV targeting
drones, latest 1L219M "Zoopark-1M" Counter-battery radar and
electronic warfare (target locating, jamming).
In October there were estimated 3 Russian
Combined-arms Formations in the Donbas, now there are 7 Russian Combined-arms
Formations, including new Brigades with T-90 tanks from Russian Tank Divisions.
- 20,000-25,000 Troops
- 350-400 Tanks (Russian supplied T-72 and T-64)
- 200-300 Infantry Armored Vehicles
- 400-500 Artillery & Multiple Rocket
Noteworthy is the creation and training of a
Novorussia Air Force on Russian territory with the following aircraft observed
in "separatist" markings – Mig-29 interceptor, SU-24 strike, and
SU-25 ground attack aircraft.
RUSSIAN FORCES NEAR THE BORDER OF UKRAINE
- 350-450 Tanks
- 1000+ Infantry Armored Vehicles
- 800+ Self-propelled Artillery & Multiple
Deployed within 500km of Ukraine these forces
could be committed to combat within less than 10 days. Some independent
Brigades have been brought near Ukraine from as far away as the TansCaucasus,
Kola Peninsula and Far East Military Region. In addition Russia has another
20,000-40,000 personnel in Interior Troops and Army Brigades available as a
second-echelon and occupation force.
Air Assault units and supporting helicopter
assets have been observed, along with armored reinforcement in occupied Crimea.
The 3rd Speztnas Brigade has reportedly been deployed along with ground
reinforcements to bolster Russian forces in Transneistra.
Also noteworthy is the Russian forward
deployment of its Tactical and Strategic Aviation within range of Ukrainian
- 12 Strategic Bomber Squadrons (TU-22M Backfire
= 7; TU-95 Bear = 4, TU-160 Blackjack = 1);
- 12 Strike Squadrons (SU-34 Fullback = 6, SU-24
Fencer = 6);
- 4 Interceptor Squadrons (Mig-25 = 1, Mig-31 =
- 30 Fighter Squadrons (Mig-23 Flogger = 3,
SU-27 Flanker = 12, SU-30 Flanker-C = 1, SU-33 Flanker-D = 2, SU-35 Flanker-E =
1, Mig-29 Fulcrum = 10, Mig-35 Fulcrum F = 1);
- 7 Ground Attack Squadrons (Mig-27 Flogger-D =
1, SU-25 Frogfoot = 6);
- 12 Attack Helicopter Squadrons (Mi-24 Hind =
5, Mi-28 Havoc = 4, Ka-52
Alligator = 3);
- Several battalions of SS-21 "Tochka"
short-range and SS-26 "Iskander" medium-range ballistic missiles with
advanced conventional (Canister Munitions and Thermobaric Warheads) as well as
being nuclear capable);
- Airborne battle management radars planes
(Mainstay AWACS) have been identified in forward deployed in Belarus and
Crimea, along with routine orbits along the eastern Ukrainian border. This
force has the ability to launch a successful Air Offensive Operation against
Ukraine's remaining Air Force as well as conduct both heavy Interdiction of key
bridges and lines of communication as well as Close Air support against ground
forces in fixed positions.
Russian has assembled virtually all of its major
amphibious attack ships (except those from the Pacific) in the Black Sea,
however once freezing weather and heavy winter-wave conditions arrive in
December, the threat of amphibious attack will be reduced (particularly in the
Sea of Azov) until spring.
2. UKRAINIAN DEFENSES
Druing the Russian "backstab" invasion
of August Ukraine suffered heavy losses with at least 5 of its 15 Brigades
overran and rendered combat ineffective (1 has been disbanded, 4 others removed
to the rear for refit and replacement of lost personnel). Many of its best
volunteer units were likewise heavily attritted. Against the combined Russian
and Separatist Forces inside the Donbas, Ukraine now has deployed about an
equal number of troops, tanks (older T-80s and T-64s), infantry armored
vehicles (mostly older BTRs and BMPs) and Artillery; but only half the number
of Multiple Rocket Launchers (and the latter are hindered by lack of target
acquisition/counter-battery radar, shorter range, and "non-use" of
Cluster/Thermobaric Munitions). Within the Donbas, Ukrainian units are dug in a
series of key blocking positions across a 350km front and these forces have
been under constant attack for the
last two months of the "Ceasefire."
Deployed on an external front, with very few armored reserves left, the
Ukrainian Army in the Donbas is vulnerable to a sudden breakthrough of their
thin-crust defense and in danger of having a humber of forward strongpoints
outflanked and surrounded.
Outside the Donbas Ukraianian forces are
stretched thin to cover: the South-West XXkm border with Transneistra (facing
reinforced Russian units), to the South a XXkm open flank facing the Black Sea,
Crimea and Sea of Azov; to the North-East a XXkm border with Russia running
from Chernigov to the Donbas; and in the North-West a XXXkm border with Belarus
(facing several thousand Russian troops and a couple of Russian air squadrons),
Against a formidable air threat, Ukraine is
"flying blind" with no early warning airborne radar and its ground
based air defenses dispersed in point defenses and vulnerable to EW jamming,
anti-radiation missile and surface-to-surface
missile (SS-21 and SS-26) attacks. Due to combat attrition, limited repair
facilities and lack of spare parts, the Ukraine Air Force has in flying
condition only about: 5
to 6 squadrons of Fighter-Interceptors (Mig-29
and SU-27), and single low strength squadrons of Strike (SU-24), Ground Attack
(SU-25) and Attack Helicopters (Mi-8 and Mi-24).
3. RUSSIAN MILITARY OPTIONS
Despite Russian claims to honor the Ceasefire
they had promoted and denials that they are building up forces within and
adjacent to Ukraine, the deployment and reinforcement of their forces over the
last several weeks has produced a new military situation and given them an
expanded range of military options – ones that not only compliment each other
but that can also be employed sequentially for cumulative effect.
Objective – seizure of key positions in the
Cease Fire area and for rapid axes of advance latter, Russians retain low
profile, has been going on for last eight weeks of Cease Fire and could
continue all winter long. Seizure of these key positions opens the opportunity
for rapid and deep operations in a major offensive.
For Ukraine, the continual bleeding weakens
their best forward units, draws down ammunition supplies, and locks forward
troop into close-combat which makes them vulnerable to being outflanked and
overrun by larger force.
Objective- open Russian controlled land route to
Crimea before Sea of Azov freezes over in December, but Russian presence will
be noticeable if units deploy from Crimea. This would effectively split Ukraine
forward defenses in half, create a unified Russian front from Crimea to Donbas,
and open the opportunity for both a north flank envelopment and western
For Ukraine, if the Russians break through in
the south and link up with Crimea, their only option is to defend the long
Dnepr River line and abandon the Donbas.
Objective – large scale Russian offensive to
seize, occupy and incorporate Novorussia (including the cities of Kharkiv,
Dneprpetrovsk, Zapparoche, Kherson, Nickoliev, and Odessa) into permanently
controlled Russian territory all the way to Transneistra. Expect large use of
Russian air power and their role will be obvious. This option is difficult (but
not impossible) to do now because of weather, ground conditions and they would
need another 20,000 troops moved up as a follow-on occupation force. Provides
land link to Transneistria, gives Russia the most industrialized parts of
Ukraine, and area where there are the most Russian speakers and ethnic Russias
(albeit a minority).
For Ukraine the strategic option would be a
fatal blow – loss of their industrial heartland, loss of oceanic access, and
40% of population base – what is left will be a rump basket case dependent on
international welfare and source of regional instability.