There is only really one rule of warfare, and that is to get there first with the most troops. Everything else is detail. And that is exactly what Putin has done in Ukraine.
In the wee small hours of this morning the Russian military, aided by the forces of its client state Belarus, started their assault in the Donbas region. In a Russian version of the USA’s infamous ‘shock and awe’ tactics of conflicts past, it began with an attack on Ukrainian air defence and communications systems, designed to incapacitate and disrupt and grant a free hand to the Russian airforce. It’s exactly the same way the Gulf War started in 1991. I know, I was there.
What are Russian tactics likely to be now that battle has essentially been joined? They have long espoused the doctrine of what they call Deep Battle, which is basically a scaled-up version of the German blitzkrieg. In practice, following on from the establishment of air superiority – or at least air parity – and after crushing artillery bombardment, strong armoured columns crash through the enemy front line and drive deep into the enemy’s rear, bypassing points of serious resistance. The aim is to disrupt, disorient, and dislocate, with the zenith of success being the encirclement and annihilation of enemy forces. A quick glance at Soviet operations in eastern Europe in 1944-45 provides the historical template.
This is what I think they will be seeking to do in Ukraine, and quickly, while opponents are stunned and slow to react. And when they do, Putin will have achieved all and more than he had hoped for,- and will be in a dominant position when it comes to the inevitable peace negotiations which will eventually bring hostilities to a halt.
Military expert Stuart Crawford says Putin and Russia will unleash a blitzkrieg on Ukraine
The Russians have long espoused the doctrine of what they call Deep Battle and using tanks
The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service site damaged by shelling in Kyiv region this morning
The Russian attack is likely to have involved multiple aircraft including the Sukhoi Su-25, an armoured ground attack aircraft which is designed specifically to support ground troops. It has been around for three decades or so now, but updates have kept it relevant. There will also likely have been some Mig-29 multi-role attack aircraft plus attack helicopters, most notably their relatively new Mil MI-28 machine.
For deep attack they will have used missiles, probably the Kalibr air and sea launched land attack missile, their equivalent of the US Tomahawk. Suppression of Ukrainian border troops has probably been carried out by conventional artillery and multi-barreled rocket launchers like the BM 21 Grad.
How can Ukraine defend itself against such an onslaught? Sadly, the answer is with great difficulty. Outnumbered and outgunned, its options are limited. Personally, my advice would be not to try to defeat the Russians in open warfare, which is a hiding to nothing. If a stand is to be made, then probably the wide expanses of the Dniepr river is the most obvious natural obstacle, but that would mean the ceding of much territory.
Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel
An explosion lights up the night sky over Kiev in the early hours of Thursday, as Russia launched an all-out attack on Ukraine from north, south and east with bombs, cruise missiles and rockets raining from the skies
A huge explosion is seen at Vinnytsia military base, in central Ukraine, as the country comes under all-out attack by Russia
What is a Blitzkrieg?
The name Blitzkrieg is a German word which translated means ‘Lightning War’.
It is used to describe a particularly aggressive form of warfare first used by the Nazis during their evil spread at the start of World War II.
The tactic saw tanks combine with artillery and motorised infantry to hit a specific area to breach the traget’s defences.
In WWII the Luftwaffe would be on hand to give air support and take out anything that could be a threat to the advance.
The Imperial War Museum says: ‘Radio communications were the key to effective Blitzkrieg operations, enabling commanders to coordinate the advance and keep the enemy off balance.
‘These techniques were used to great effect in 1939, when the Polish Army was destroyed in a series of encirclement battles. In May 1940 Hitler attacked France, his panzer divisions smashing through slow-moving French formations and cutting off the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk.
‘Spectacular success was also achieved during the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and large numbers of Soviet troops were captured.’
However, modern armies fear having to fight in urban areas more than almost anything else. The damage such a tactic would cause to Ukraine’s cities and towns should not be underestimated, nor should the civilian casualties which are bound to accrue, but urban conurbations suck up attacking forces and deny them many of the advantages that superior numbers and equipment afford them. The Russians will not wish to get involved in another Stalingrad or Berlin, and this factor may favour the defenders. It would not, however, be without great cost.
The only surprise here is that some people, including our own politicians, seem to be surprised by the events of last night. The truth is that the possibility, nay probability, of just such an attack has been flagged up by US and UK intelligence sources for months now, but their advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears. It’s a classic case of collective cognitive dissonance.
In military circles the ‘threat’ is usually understood to comprise the elements of capability and intent. Russia’s capability has never been in doubt, and the transparency offered by modern surveillance systems quickly confirmed the build up of troops in preparation for what we now know to be an invasion. All the elements were there – including the most important and significant logistic stockpiling of ammunition and medical supplies which usually precede military operations.
What was not so clear, however, was Putin’s intent. The Russians have long been expert in the art of maskirovka, a doctrine covering a wide range of measures design to camouflage and deceive. Whilst concealing the hardware may prove difficult, Putin’s courses of action have been deliberately ambiguous until it’s too late for NATO and the West to react effectively.
As for NATO and the West, well, there’s precious little that can be done. Delivery of weaponry and supplies may delay the outcome, and may delay it for long enough for the Russians to weary of conflict and seek peace, but that’s about it. Politicians can wring their hands and express ‘solidarity’, but that really won’t cut it. Nor can we Brits send in troops because we don’t really have an army that’s up to the task.
In the final analysis, the fate of Ukraine lies in the hands of its people, notwithstanding friendly words and encouragement from international allies. And they face a bleak immediate future.
Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He now works as a defence and security consultant