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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 Combined-arms Troops)

- 100+ Tanks (including at least 40 T-90 tanks)

- 400+ Infantry Armored Vehicles (including BTR-90 and BMP-3)

- 150+ Self-propelled Artillery & Multiple Rocket Launchers

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.

SEPARATIST FORCES

- 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 Launchers

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

- 40,000

- 350-450 Tanks

- 1000+ Infantry Armored Vehicles

- 800+ Self-propelled Artillery & Multiple Rocket Launchers

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 targets, including:

- 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 = 3);

- 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, air-delivered

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.

TACTICAL OPTION

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.

OPERATIONAL OPTION

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 exploitation.

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.

STRATEGIC OPTION

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.

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