RUSSIA’S WINTER OFFENSIVE
(1) Military Operation Command Changes. The recent personnel changes at the top of the military chain of command running the ‘special military operation’ (SVO) have been interpreted in the Western press as a sign of chaos, desperation, military opposition to Putin, and the like. All this is utter nonsense. This is preparation for the coming Russian winter offensive that might just break Ukraine’s defense lines on the Donbass front ranging from Kupyansk in the north to Avdiivka in the south, if not the Ukrainian army’s back. The appointment of Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valerii Gerasimov to head the SVO to replace Gen. Sergei Suvorikin, who becomes Gerasimov’s deputy in that command, was explained in the military announcement this way: “The increase in the level of leadership of a special military operation is associated with the expansion of the scale of the tasks being solved during its implementation, the need to organize closer interaction between the types and branches of the armed forces, as well as improving the quality of all types of support and the effectiveness of the management of groups of troops (forces)” (https://www.ng.ru/news/757369.html). To reiterate, the announcement of the shifts stated that they were undertaken to facilitate “expansion of the scale of the tasks” to be undertaken under the SVO. This corresponds to escalation of operations that will occur during the imminent if not already beginning winter offensive. It likely will be conducted on several fronts simultaneously and deploy larger number of troops than deployed at any time since the operation began in February 2022.
(2) Winter Campaign Options. As the winter campaign comes over the horizon, there are several options as fronts on which said campaign might be carried out. First, there are the Kievan options. One is to attack Kiev from one or two directions. One direction would be to have a Russian a Russian-Belarusian force strike south from Belarus west of the Dneipr River. This operation could also be used to cut off the Western supply line of weapons et al to the Ukrainian military from Poland. The other strike direction would be to drive southwest from Belgorod or Belarus east of the Dneipr through Chernigov or Sumy. Each Kiev strike force could have as many as 100,000 troops. The object would be not to enter and occupy Kiev bit to surround it and cut it off from the rest of Ukraine, ‘starving’ the city of supplies into surrender. This would also face President Volodomyr Zelenskiy and his Maidan regime ruling administration to decide whether to remain in the encircled capitol or take flight to western Ukraine or the West (Poland).
Another option is to center the offensive across the Donbass various fronts stretching from Kupyansk in the north (if this has not been abandoned by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) by the time the offensive begins) through Siversk and Bakhmut to Avdiivka, even Ugledar in the south Donbass. The goal(s) of such an operation would be to seize the entire territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, which, according to Russian law, are now part of the Russian Federation. This raises the question of another option: to mount an offensive in the south to take all of Zaporozhe and Kherson Oblasts, which are also parts of Russia, according to Russia’s annexation, laws, and constitution. The problem that arises for Putin and the Russian General Staff is that even with the mobilization that has added some 350,000 troops to the fighting forces in Ukraine, simultaneous offensive on the northern (Kiev), Donbass, and southern fronts risk dividing the forces so as to weaken their effectiveness and success.
In terms of sequenced rather than simultaneous offensives, the Donbass and southern directions would likely have priority since they are to fulfill the minimum program of securing the four annexed oblasts. Success in these directions could be followed by a move on Kiev. However, the first offensive wave in the east and south could leave the UAF so battered that Kiev might be ready to negotiate or surrender or be riven by inter-factional infighting, even a coup that would obviate the need to encircle Kiev. Therefore, a fourth option and alternative third front to accompany the eastern and southern would be to send one smaller force south from Belarus designed simply to cut off the Western supply line from Poland rather than sending two larger forces aiming at Kiev (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/russia-plans-to-disrupt-western-arms-supplies-to-ukraine-lavrov/ar-AA15LBF7). This force could turn towards Kiev after major success in the east and south and strengthened reinforcements entering from Belarus and be supplemented by another targeting Kiev from Belgorod, as discussed in the Kiev option. Although success on any three, even two (eastern and southern) of the fronts could end the war, consolidating a land bridge to Crimea, it would also leave unacheived the question of completing the land bridge to Transdneistr, leaving historically Russian Odessa as part of a rump Ukraine. Another direction would be to strike north from Kherson to take the Cherkassy-Kaniv transportation hub and thereby cut off communications and supplies between western Ukraine and Donbass (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFJDnDMdx6M&ab_channel=MilitarySummary).
Contrary to Moscow’s forces, the UAF appears incapable of mounting any offensives that would change the course of the war at this point. Even with the limited number of German tanks and American Bradleys set to be supplied to Kiev, the UAF would be challenged to mount a successful offensive on any front, except perhaps in the south towards Melitipol. But even this is a long shot. Moreover, once the Russian offensives begin, the tactical and strategic initiative is likely to be solely in Russia’s hands, and Kiev will be limited to responding to threats, which will be difficult, as transportation for redeployment will be hampered by Russia’s air war against Ukraineian energy and transport infrastructures (https://strana.news/articles/analysis/420245-perspektivy-2023-hoda-prohnoz-strany.html).
In sum, although some see the war lasting into at least 2024, successful Russian operations could put both Moscow and Kiev in the mood to negotiate; the latter because objectives will have been achieved that can be sold to the Russian population and key elite groups as victory, and the former because the Ukrainian state and/or Maidan regime will be on the verge of extinction.
(3) Softening the Target and More Zelenskiy Simulacra, January 14. On 14 January 2023, Russia launched another massive air strike across Ukraine, hitting mostly energy infrastructure. President Volodomyr Zelenskiy mischaracterized the effect of the strikes, which occurred in three waves.Zelenskii claimed that Ukraine’s air defense intercepted 22 of 30 missiles launched by Russia (https://t.me/stranaua/85792). The Ukrainian military reported intercepting 21 of 33 launched rockets. But the Ukrainian news site Strana.ua reported that Russian missiles hit nine specified cities and “many” unidentified “others” (https://strana.news/news/421817-itohi-325-dnja-vojny-v-ukraine.html). There was another reason for the massive rocket attack. The weather has turned warm again and the ground has thawed, meaning the Russian offensive’s takeoff will not be slowed for many days until the next freeze. The Ukrainians can reinforce the outskirts of Soledar and other areas south of Bakhmut (Artemevsk) during the thaw. The rocket attack cut electricity supply, hampering troops transport by train and other measures needed to resupply and regroup Ukraine’s badly battered forces around Soledar and Bakhmut.
(4) More Zelenskiy Simulacra. In addition to the above and many previous examples of Zelenskiy’s penchant for fakes, simulacra, and the like, the Ukrainian president tried to suggest in his speech to the globalists’ Davos congress that it is unclear whom in Russia to negotiate with and on what issues, because he may be dead or is a puppet of some shadow elite: “I do not fully understand whether he (the President of the Russian Federation – ed.) is alive. Is he the one who makes the decisions, or someone else, a certain group of people. I have no information. I don’t quite understand how you can promise European leaders one thing and the next day start a full-scale invasion of another country. I don’t quite understand who we are dealing with.” “It seems to me that Russia must find someone first and then offer something.” At the same time, Zelenskiy stated Ukraine’s goal is take back all Ukrainian territory seized by Russia, including Crimea, which raises the question of precisely what kind talks possibly can take place between Kiev and Moscow.
(5) Kremlin Politics. The Kremlin ‘tower’ of hardliners (party of war) could be strengthened by the extent to which the first phase of the war from the initial invasion up to mobilization and the new, apparent ‘full war’ strategy is seen as a failure and the result of influence of the ‘party of compromise’ on Putin. Winners will be Nikolai Patrushev, his sons, the ‘private’ military company Wagner’s Yevgenii Prigozhin, among others. At this point it is difficult to discern evidence of the war party’s strengthening, since Patrushev and his sons as well as Prigozhin were on the rise around Putin before February 2022, with Patrushev becoming the Kremlin’s chief ideologist and Prigozhin an increasingly powerful Russian actor abroad and at home. With Russia’s full turn away from the West and the war necessitating a harsher line at home and abroad, the consolidation of hardliners’ power is complete and the influence of Patrushev and Prigozhin each is growing. However, Putin is ‘keeping close’ the ‘regime liberals’, some of whom themselves have become hardliners (or, like Kudrin, have left the corridors of power). Witness Dmitrii Medvedev’s appointment as head of the military-industrial commission that will administer the ramping up of weapons production.
EUROPE BOOKS, 2022
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2021
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2018
About the Author –
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com. Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, gordonhahn.com and gordonhahn.academia.edu
Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.